Israel’s ambassador to San Marino, Dror Eydar, is pressing Defense Minister Benny Gantz to allow tens of thousands of coronavirus vaccine doses to be sent to the country, as had been promised before a clampdown on such shipments to other friendly nations, the Kan public broadcaster reported Wednesday.
Legal officials last month halted planned deliveries of vaccines to allies, saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not have the authority to authorize the moves without consulting with the cabinet.
Eydar, who is also ambassador to Italy, claimed that Israel had previously committed to transferring the vaccines to San Marino, a microstate surrounded by north Italy, population 30,000.
The envoy spoke with Gantz last week, according to the report.
However, a source told the station that Israel is currently not authorizing the transfer of more than 5,000 vaccines to any country.
San Marino has had 4,204 virus cases and 77 deaths, according to the Worldometes website that tracks global virus infections.
Gantz has called to halt vaccine shipments abroad, saying Israel’s stockpile of vaccines is the property of the state. He has attacked the prime minister’s go-it-alone approach and questioned Netanyahu’s claims that there are really excess supplies when some Israelis still have not been vaccinated.
The Kan report did not say if Eydar also spoke with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, who is the No. 2 in Gantz’s Blue and White party.
Eydar’s request came as a cascading number of European countries — including Germany, France, Italy and Spain — suspended use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine Monday over reports of dangerous blood clots in some recipients, though the company and international regulators say there is no evidence the shot is to blame.
Last week, Kan reported that Israel was restarting its so-called vaccine diplomacy to supply shots to friendly countries.
Israel is now negotiating with 20 countries and Moderna to send up to 100,000 vaccine doses abroad, according to criteria laid out by the attorney general, the report said, noting that there was some urgency to the move as the doses were due to expire by the end of May.
Israel has surplus doses that it purchased from Moderna before signing an agreement with Pfizer-BioNTech for rapid delivery of enough doses to inoculate the entire population in exchange for sharing the medical data with Pfizer.
The saga of sending vaccines to other countries has raised questions about Netanyahu’s decision-making authority as well as his move to help far-flung nations in Africa and Latin America at a time when the neighboring Palestinian territories are struggling to secure their own vaccine supplies. The plan has also illustrated how at a time of global shortages, the vaccine has become an asset that can be used for diplomatic gain.
Announcing the initial plan, Netanyahu said Israel has hundreds of thousands of surplus vaccine doses and he had personally decided to share a small quantity of them with several friendly countries he did not name, as a mostly symbolic thank you “in return for things we already have received.”
Even though the plan was then frozen, one delivery had already landed in Honduras, the country’s President Juan Orlando Hernandez announced, saying the doses will go to frontline workers. The Czech Republic also said that it received 5,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine from the Jewish state.
Kan reported last week that among other countries expected to receive doses were Cyprus, Mauritania, Hungary, Guatemala, the Maldives, San Marino, Ethiopia, Chad, Kenya, Uganda and Guinea. Each was expected to get some 5,000 doses.
US officials told The Times of Israel last month that Mauritania, which has no diplomatic ties with Israel, was close to normalizing relations with Jerusalem before former US president Donald Trump’s term ended.
Netanyahu, who is up for reelection on March 23, has staked his political success on Israel’s successful vaccination drive, in which over half of the country’s 9.3 million people have been inoculated with at least one dose in just under two months.
Israel last week also began vaccinating some 120,000 Palestinians who have permits to work inside Israel and the West Bank settlements.
The move to vaccinate Palestinian workers comes as the West Bank is seeing a rapid rise in coronavirus infections. There are currently 17,989 active coronavirus cases in the West Bank, one of the highest levels since the beginning of the pandemic.
Large swaths of the Palestinian Authority entered total lockdown over the weekend in an attempt to curb the rising infection rates, as hospitals reached full capacity in Ramallah and Bethlehem.
While Israel has vaccinated over 5 million of its citizens, the Palestinian Authority has yet to receive a single major vaccine shipment. Of the doses that did reach Ramallah, a substantial number were allegedly taken by those with connections to the PA elite.
Aaron Boxerman and agencies contributed to this report.